Thursday, March 30, 2006

Jim Latter's 'Stations of the Cross'

‘Stations of the Cross’ by Jim Latter is a series of 15 paintings. Each painting relates to a particular point in the journey of Jesus from condemnation to resurrection. The paintings are on display in St Mary le Bow church for the duration of Lent (until Easter Sunday, April 16).

The paintings are incredibly simple. Each shows the same sized rectangle on the same sized piece of paper. Each rectangle contains a cross. The dimensions and proportions of the cross do not vary. This gives the series coherence, strength, and power.

Using only colour, shape, pattern and the relationship between the foreground of the cross and background of the rectangle, the artist manages to convey or suggest something of the essence of each of the episodes in the story of the Passion of Christ, and also something of the essence of the story as a whole.

I visited the exhibition four times. On my third visit I quickly toured round the 15 paintings, making a note into my laptop of what I perceived in each painting. Yesterday lunchtime I went back to note down the titles of each painting. By a nice co-incidence Jim Latter was in the church at the time. He introduced himself, and walked around the exhibition with me.

What follows is, for each painting, firstly the original notes that I took of my perceptions of the painting, and then some of what Jim told me of how he made the painting and what he was looking to convey.

red at the bottom fading in to black at the top. like a sunset or a dawn with light diffusing but it feels like the darkness from the top is pushing down on the red fading light below

Jim’s comments: I paid a lot of attention to the proportions of the cross, and the ratios between it and the rectangle that the cross is contained in. I’ve noticed that most of the crosses you see in churches haven’t got the right proportions. The dimensions of the cross in this rectangle create two squares as background above the arms of the cross, and two rectangles below the arms.

I started by placing masking around the rectangle and over the cross. I painted the background with layers of acrylic paint. Then I uncovered the cross, masked the rest of the rectangle and painted the cross.

the darkness is lightened somewhat. The cross is brought to the fore by evenly spaced vertical lines, like scars that cut across the grain and run down the cross - both its arms and its support. In the background you have green light at the bottom fading into grey at the top.
(taking up the cross)

the cross stands out blue, garish and the lines on the cross are at an oblique angle, all leaning the same way. The background is brown - a light mud brown – but it is scarred by lines, lines that have been made before the imposition of the cross, lines that are interrupted by the cross.
(first fall)

Jim: I masked over the cross and used a ruler and a knife to scour lines into the paper in the rectangle. I did it with a ruler, more or less at random. Then I scoured the diagonal lines onto the cross.

I used a blue oil pastel to colour the cross: it was like brass rubbing, it’s a solid lump of pastel and, the pastel doesn’t get into the channels created by the knife. The scourings into the paper are there to show the pain, I was thinking of someone scraping their fingernails down a blackboard.

the only one where the pain spills outside of the rectangle and reaches into the white space beyond the rectangle. The one where the cross almost merges into the background, the cross is a deeper blue, the background the same blue more lightly applied, it is watercolour and you get the fluidity of the cross and the background joining, spreading, merging, like the baby and the mother in the womb.

Jim: I wanted to show the pure pain and grief of a mother for a child. I thought of tears.
I used a different technique for this one. I didn’t use the masking tape. First I wet the whole rectangle and dripped drops of blue watercolour (like putting in eyedrops). Most of the blue stayed within the rectangle but sometimes the blue splashed outside the rectangle, like tears.

I waited till it dried then I wetted the cross, leaving the background of the rectangle dry. I dropped blue paint onto the cross to make the cross stand out from the background in a deeper blue, knowing that some of the blue of the cross would spill out into the background.

wow. Colours, bright colours. The cross marked out by vertical stripes going from left to right (arm) green black yellow red green black yellow (support) red green black yellow red (arm) green black yellow red green black yellow. The four corners of the background are reading from left to right and top to bottom: black green yellow red. The background corners have diagonal lines each diagonal taking the line from the edges in towards the centre of the cross, the cross of the cross.

Jim: I spoke to Rev Bush (the minister at St Mary le Bow) about Simon. He helped Jesus. Some sources suggest he was black. I wanted to use colours that paid homage to that: I wanted to use Rasta colours.

watercolour again. The cross brown, the background a dull blue. Some horizontal drips of blue flow downwards and change their course as they flow over the brown cross. Several patches of the cross are a darker brown, where the head would be, where the feet would be, where the arms would hang

Jim: Veronica wiped Jesus’ brow with her cloth, when she looked at the cloth afterwards the sweat had formed the image of Jesus’ face on the cloth.

I made the cross wet and applied the brown, then I made the background wet and applied the blue watercolour.

When you wet the paper it buckles, when it buckles the paint runs into hollows and groups in different places: you can’t control how it turns out. The dark patches of brown you see on the cross could have occurred in any pattern, it was beyond my control, I was amazed to see that way the dark patches have grouped suggests the presence of the body of Jesus, like an x-ray.

cross is a blue, a deeper blue than before. Background is brown, a deeper brown than before. The lines on the cross are diagonals moving downwards from right to left. In the background there are lines, interrupted by the cross, entangled lines, lines that form an entangling meshy trap like lots of ropes that keep tripping you up
(second fall)

Jim: If the scar lines on the cross had been horizontal and vertical everything would have seemed stable: I made the scar lines diagonals to show the instability, the falling

watercolour. Cross is brown but invaded by the colours of the background which is a tie died, psychedelic, rainbow of beautiful, peaceful spectrum-like colours.
(women of Jerusalem)

the cross is a duller blue, almost all the blue has faded now. The demarcation between the blue of the cross and the brown of the background is being lost: they are fading into one. The lines of the cross are diagonals going downwards from left as I view to the right. The same entangling, tripping lines.
(third fall)

the mood feels different over here, more serious, less human, less alive, hope has been stripped out. The cross, white, the background black with paler patches.

Jim: The cross is bare, just white, to show the nakedness of flesh. For the background I wanted to create the effect of metal. To show the vulnerability of the flesh against the harshness of the metal.

the cross red the background red. The cross demarcated from the background only by the different orientation of the lines scarring its surface. The lines scarring the surface of the background run horizontally, the lines scarring the surface of the cross are orientated vertically. The lines don’t run as neat parallels: they are entangled lines, like the lines in the paintings of the falls

Jim: I’ve given this painting to the church, so it will stay here at St Mary le Bow when the exhibition has finished.

black. Only black. If you look for a long time, the black of the cross appears to show out from the black of the background.

Jim: I painted the whole rectangle black. Then I masked over the background and gave another coat of the same paint to the cross. So the only difference between the background and the cross is that the cross is painted twice.

some colour is coming back. Pale colour, but pale hopeful colours. The foot of the cross is pink like flesh, the foot of the background is green like grass, pink and green fading upward but the colour of the background at the top is blue, not black.
(taken down)

Jim: for the blue at the top I was thinking of all those renaissance paintings which seem to have a clear morning sky, when it hasn’t got hot yet, when there is still a bit of freshness in the air.

When I painted the cross I had in my mind a picture from an American comic that was passed round my school when I was a kid. It was a pretty nasty comic and one picture showed a picture of a man who had been shot. The man was slumped back on a chair, his arms hanging over the sides of the chair. He had obviously been dead for some hours and the blood had sunk down to the bottom of the arms, so the artist showed the top of the arms as pale, getting pinker as you moved down towards the man’s hands. This was my image of what death was for a long time.

the cross is black with thin, horizontal, evenly spaced, parallel red scars. The background is black with thin vertical parallel scars.

Jim: There is nowhere that the horizontal lines of the cross can go, they are trapped by the vertical lines of the background. I wanted to give that feeling of being closed in, of being unable to move. This is also a nod to the work of Frank Stella, an abstract artist whom I admire.

white. If you look for a while you will see the white cross emerging from the white background and appearing to light up the white of the paper outside the square.

Jim: I didn’t know what to do for resurrection. I spent two weeks wondering around my studio without a clue on how to depict it. Then I thought ‘white’.

I painted the whole rectangle white, then masked out the background and painted the cross again with another coat of white. But the second coat was very light, there is very little difference in weight between the white of the cross and that of background.

When you look at this you are seeing four different whites: the white of the cross, the white of the background, the white of the paper, and the white of the mount.

Some comments from Jim about the work as a whole
When I researched the stations of the cross all the previous work I came across, with one exception, were figurative, depicting in some way the people involved in the story. The one exception was a Stations of the cross by the abstract artist Barnett Newman.

Newman's work simply used geometric shapes, it did not even use the cross. But somehow it worked. I saw it in London when it came over as an exhibition about 5 years ago. I felt that the work gave me 'permission' to do the work without figures. At one point I was thinking of using circles as the basis of the work, but after a time I realised that I needed to have the cross in there.

Some comments from me for Jim about the work as a whole
It seems that most stations of the cross by other artists have 14 stations: is your work unique in adding the 15th station, for the resurrection?
The first time I saw this work it was the contrast between the black of your depiction of death, and the white of your depiction of the resurrection that really sucked me into this whole work. The contrast gives a pure energy to the work, like a star near a black hole.

Does the series continue after resurrection? Does the slight difference between the white and the white mean a new cycle, a different cycle starts anew? Or does the white gradually dissolve into the white?

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